Checkdown - A Battle Red Blog Mystery (Chapter Nineteen)

The following is, from start to finish, a work of complete fiction. Any resemblance to persons alive and/or dead are purely coincidental, so please don't sue me (because I own nothing of value); unless, of course, it's a reference to someone here on BRB, in which case REALLY don't sue me.

Also, if you want to read Checkdown from the very beginning, there is a new section heading on Battle Red Blog called, oddly enough, "Checkdown." It can be found under the sections tab on the upper left hand side of the main page. Enjoy!

Chapter Nineteen - Media Day

It took maybe a half a second after he pressed the "end talk" button on his phone when Scott wished he hadn't called Carlyle. If he ever saw that man again it'd be fifty million years too soon as far as he was concerned.

He looked down at Orlund. By now he was quite dead. The long, jagged shard of glass jutted out of his back. The highly polished mirror caught Scott's eye as he saw his own reflection. He quickly moved out of its line of sight.

It was then he realized that he had done the smart thing. His prints would be all over Orlund, Carlyle would have found them easily enough and the last thing Scott wanted was another round of "The Spanish Inquisition" with an even angrier, and less understanding, Detective Carlyle.

A scant few minutes passed before the din of sirens came roaring up to the motel.

Scott examined the little slip of paper from Sharpstown Medical Clinic he found in Orlund's closet. It was folded into fours and looked like it had spent a very long time tucked away in someone's wallet. Judging by the way Orlund kept it hidden, he assumed it had belonged to Eliot Nash. He unfolded the sheet, placed it on the bed, took a picture of it with his camera, and folded it back up.

The courtyard reverberated with the sounds of cops shouting orders and rushing into the motel to secure the area around the crime scene. Scott thought about the manager, who was probably having kittens with yet another police visit to his fine establishment. Then again, maybe he spent so much of his time watching God only knew what in his little cave that he might not have noticed at all. Either way, Scott wanted to end that line of thought right there, before he frightened himself.

Scott stood outside the threshold of Orlund's room and waved the cops over. They knew he was there, might as well show them the way, he figured.

Carlyle strode into the room like he owned the place. He had certainly been there enough to feel like he did, at least.

"You better have a damn good reason for being here, Brooks," Carlyle said, gesturing for one of the officers to move toward Scott.

He looked at Orlund's body lying prone on the bed. Blood had begun to soak onto the sheets and his face had grown tight with a bloody smirk that reminded Carlyle of the Joker.

"Sister Mary Francis," he said, his eyes firmly fixed on Orlund. "What the hell did you do, lawyer boy?"

"It was an accident," Scott said quietly.

"Hell of an accident. What happened?" Carlyle asked, still trying to assess the situation.

"He was going to kill me," Scott said, subconsciously rubbing the front of his neck. "We crashed into that mirror over there and one of the pieces...well," he said, indicating the shard in Orlund's back.

"Detective. Look at this."

The cop standing next to Scott picked up, in his gloved hand, the length of cord Orlund had used to strangle Scott.

Scott didn't bother turning around. He knew what the cop was holding and he did not want to see it. Without hesitating, he craned his neck up for Carlyle. A mottled purplish red line stretched around his neck.

"Why was he trying to kill you?"

"He...killed Eliot Nash," Scott said haltingly. "He let something slip and I figured it out. It sounded like he was hired to do it."

The cops went around Scott and toward the closet where they inspected the hemlock and the unused syringes still taped to the wall.

"Who would've wanted him out of the way so badly that they'd put out a hit on him?"

Scott handed Carlyle the folded-up paper. "I think this is what got Nash killed. Look at the name at the top of the page."

Carlyle read the note quickly. After he finished, he looked like he wanted to sit down, but couldn't bring himself to do it. He turned to one of the officers standing guard outside. "Do we know where the Texans are staying tonight?"

"Yes sir, they're at the Downtown Hilton."

"I want backup to meet me there in half an hour. It's time we wrapped this case up."

Carlyle stormed out the door and Scott began to follow him.

"Where do you think you're going?" Carlyle asked.

"I'm coming with you."

"No. You're not."

Scott stopped abruptly. "What?"

"You already got lucky once, Brooks. If you think I'm about to let you stick your neck out--" he stopped. Scott didn't say anything

"Just go home, Brooks. We'll take this from here. Go home and get some rest or something."

"This is bullshit, Carlyle. You wouldn't even be here without me!"

"I am not going to have your blood on my hands. Now, go! I'll have an officer take you home."

Scott opened his mouth to argue the point. He really wanted to go see the arrest for himself, but couldn't do it. He was worn down, had nearly been killed twice in one day, which was two times too many as far as he was concerned, and sleep was starting to sound really inviting. He let out a deep sigh, slumped his shoulders, and walked down toward the parking lot, with an officer at his side.

"Just tell me one thing," Scott said, turning around to face Carlyle. "Did Carlos' story check out?"

Carlyle sighed. "Yeah. Nash's restaurant was bleeding money. He was about to default on a second mortgage he took out on his house, and there was next to nothing in his account."

"He didn't kill him, did he?" Scott asked.

"Go home, Brooks," Carlyle said.

He got into the front seat, which was a marked improvement over being stuck in the backseat, and leaned his head against the window.

"Where can I take you, buddy?" the officer asked, trying to be kind.

"Downtown Hilton," Scott said resignedly.

The officer laughed at the suggestion. Scott gave his address and they were gone.

Riding in the front seat of a squad car offered two distinct advantages. First, it was far roomier than the back of the car, and second, the sirens allowed them to get to Scott's house in record time.

The house was almost as dark as the sky surrounding it. If the porch light hadn't been on an automatic timer, it might have looked abandoned.

The first thing he did when he went inside was to check the machine for messages. The little red light blinked happily, indicating an unplayed message. Scott hit play, hoping that Claire's voice would be on the recording.

It wasn't Claire.

"Scott, it's Diego. Where the hell have you been? Anderson's been looking for you and he ain't happy, either. Call me when you get this!"

He deleted the message. Anderson could wait until tomorrow. What couldn't wait was watching the Nash investigation wrap up. It would be the lead story on all the local stations, maybe even nationally. That was never in question for Scott. It would only be a matter of time.

Scott calculated how long it would take for the arrest to go down and flipped on the TV in the den. By his math, Carlyle could make it to the Downtown Hilton in roughly 10 minutes. Which meant the news would probably break at any moment, he thought.

The TV came on to show a rerun of some crappy show that probably should never have been written in the first place. He changed the channel hurriedly. None of the other channels were showing it either.

Scott scratched his head. It didn't make any sense. The arrest of Nash's killer, especially considering who it was, should have had them scrambling to break into their normal programming. But they weren't.

He turned on the computer and logged onto Battle Red Blog and opened his email. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spent so much time away from the site, let alone away from his computer. He let out a low whistle when he saw the number of emails waiting for him. There were 43 emails in the box, which was about 43 emails more than he liked to have in his inbox.

Ignoring them for the time being, he opened up a new email to the other writers.

Sorry I've been out. Had some things to take care of here. Has anyone heard anything about the police going down to the Downtown Hilton?

If anybody would know about what's going on with the Texans, it'd be these guys, Scott thought.

Knile was the first to respond.

Why would they be going there?

Scott:

They're going to arrest Nash's killer, one of the players on the team.

There was a long wait between emails. Scott wondered what the holdup was in his response.

Knile:

One of the Texans killed Eliot Nash? Why?

Now it was Scott's turn to pause. He thought carefully about how to phrase his response, making sure not to give too much away.

Scott:

No idea. Have you heard any news?

Knile:

They're not staying at the Hilton. Too much of a security risk, since they're the hometown team. I heard they're staying at some little hotel up north, like in Humble or something. But they're definitely not at the Hilton.

Scott hadn't expected this. If they weren't at the Hilton, then they could be anywhere in the Houston area. It would take Carlyle days to narrow down where they were staying.

I doubt they'll be staying at the West Wind, Scott thought irreverently.

There was one place that he knew the killer could be found, an event that he could not get out of without raising some serious red flags, a rite of passage for every team that's played in the Super Bowl: Media Day.

Scott's face lit up. There was still a chance of breaking the story before anyone else, even the police, could beat him to it. He could see only one drawback to his plan: Reliant security wouldn't let him within a mile of the podium.

Chief surprised Scott by jumping into the conversation.

I got some news on the Hilton from Flapjacks' Twitter. Said he's yet to see a single Texan walking around. I bet it's hard to see them when you're sitting at the bar for hours on end.

He thought for a moment about Flapjacks, about the story Winslow stole and gave to him for access.

Scott:

Knile, is it possible to trace someone who's hacked into your computer? Chief, what if I told you I think I can get BRB into media day?

Knile:

Sure. You know you've been hacked?

Chief:

Media Day? That's a laugh. If you can pull it off, I'll eat my hat.

Scott:

Chief, I've seen your hat, eating it would be doing the world a favor. Knile, Winslow hacked my computer, how do I trace his computer?

Knile's next email contained a long and complicated explanation about how to trace hackers. He tried reading it twice, but never got any further than the end of the second paragraph.

Chief:

What's going on here, Scott? Really? Why the sudden interest in getting BRB into Media Day?

Scott:

Closure.

He rushed down stairs and into the car, directions to the Chronicle fluttering in his hand as he hurried.

Standing in front of the Chronicle building, Scott suddenly felt very small. The building had several rows of windows, which were mostly dark, save for a couple in the midsection. The windows were separated by great granite columns illuminated by wall-mounted lights that stretched skyward. The name of the paper beamed prominently across the building's frieze.

They put more work into the building than they do their paper, Scott thought maliciously.

Scott went into the building and looked for the sports department. When he arrived there, it was nothing like he'd expected it to look like. The room was brightly lit, the walls blinding white. Desks were separated by low fabric-lined partitions which offered no privacy at all to the people sitting behind the desks. Jack McClanahan sat behind a spacious L-shaped desk in the far right corner of the floor. It was completely bare with a styrofoam chicken container being the lone exception. His walls were plastered with framed covers of stories he had broken for the Chronicle. Scott couldn't help noticing that they were all yellowed with age, a sign of greatness that has long since passed.

"Are you Jack McClanahan?" Scott asked.

"Yeah, just put the moo goo gai pan over there," he said, indicating a chair resting against the partition.

"I don't have your dinner."

"Then what do you want?" he asked, never looking away from his computer.

"I want access to Media Day."

McClanahan laughed. "Yeah, you and the rest of Houston. Get lost, I don't have time to screw around with fanboys."

Scott took another step toward McClanahan's desk.

McClanahan looked up, "Didn't you hear me? I said scram."

"No."

"You have five seconds before I call security."

"You won't call them," Scott said confidently.

"Watch me," McClanahan said, reaching for the phone.

"That would be a mistake, Mr. McClanahan."

"And why is that?"

"Because you stole my story."

McClanahan blinked stupidly. "Come again?"

"You ran my story about Eliot Nash's murder, about Marcus Sheridan and then passed it off as yours. If you throw me out now, I'll just take my story over to the Daily and see what they have to say. I know they'd be thrilled to show you up for a change."

He leaned back in his chair and smiled confidently, "Nice story. But that's all you've got, son: a story. Now, if you had a bit of evidence--"

"A friend of mine is currently tracing the hack to Winslow Gettis' computer," Scott lied. "I know he gave the story to you, he's even admitted such. How long do you think it'll take before Winslow rolls over on you to the police? Five minutes, maybe?"

McClanahan scowled at Scott, who reflected a look of unnatural calm. "What do you want, Mr.--"

"Brooks. I want access to Media Day tomorrow. If I get that, my story stays quiet. If you renege in any way, I go to the Daily. If something goes wrong, I go to the Daily. Deal?"

McClanahan stood up and stared Scott down with gimlet eyes. "Reliant Stadium, 8 a.m. If you're not there, you're on your own."

"It's a date."

**********

Media Day proved to be a day of firsts for Scott. It was the first time he'd ever gotten to stand on the field, the first time he'd been among the reporters he'd seen on television, and the first time he'd get to speak to Texans players as a member of the media.

The fans in the stands were the first thing to catch his attention. It was roughly a 90/10 mix of Texans fans to Redskins fans. Several of the fans wore red, white, and blue bulls heads which looked awfully similar to the cheeseheads typically worn in Green Bay. Their excitement and anticipation were palpable as they waited to see their favorite players come out to sit in front of the podium and face the gauntlet of reporters waiting to grill them; questions, Scott was sure, that would either be answered with typical diplomatic aplomb, or ducked altogether.

What he hadn't expected was the sheer crush of people huddled around the podium waiting their turn to ask their questions to the players. The Texans were scheduled to go first, which meant that in about three hours, the stadium would be nearly whisper quiet, with the occasional hog snort peppered in during the Redskins' turn.

Scott stood in the middle of the pack, his arms smashed up as close to his body as possible. Despite the frigid air outside, sweat trickled down his brow. About 10 feet away, McClanahan stood poised to strike like a snake when the players he wanted to speak to finally sat down.

Verdieri was the first man to come out. He looked much taller from field level than he did on television, or even from the stands at the game, his face was haggard, like he hadn't slept in about 20 years. There was a brief clamor as each reporter tried getting their question answered by the head coach. Some, like McClanahan, were successful, others not so much.

Verdieri was followed by Sheridan's replacement on the team. Years ago, he was a perennial Pro-Bowler. Nowadays he was a shell of his former self.

After him came Julius Helforth, his arm in a steel blue sling and a wide grin on his face. He wouldn't get to play, but that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy the experience. Scott wanted to ask him a question, but his voice was drowned out, most notably by McClanahan.

Scott shot a vicious look at the reporter, who only shrugged and turned toward the podium again.

Helforth got up once his time at the podium was finished and another player sat down, accompanied by his agent. The player's eyes shone brightly as he looked around at the mass of cameras interspersed with the reporters on the field, and the myriad microphones poking toward him on the podium.

He answered questions gracefully and with surprising ease. This kid was far more media savvy than Scott could have given him credit for. He opened his mouth to ask a question, and stopped. A sudden doubt ran through his mind about what kind of hell would rain down on the team, on this player, for their parts in Nash's killing. Could he bring himself to do that, to his favorite team no less?

Flapjacks filled the void with a question of his own when Scott floundered.

Out of the corner of his eye, Scott spotted the figure of Detective Carlyle stepping out of the vomitorium, flanked by half a dozen other officers. Whether or not Scott brought it up would soon be irrelevant. He raised his hand and the player pointed him out.

"Scott Brooks with Battle Red Blog. I have one question for you, Mr. Yount: Do you know who Khiawatha Downey is?"

A loud murmur rolled through the throng of reporters and Yount became visibly confused.

"I'm sorry, I haven't the slightest idea. Should I know?"

"I would think you would," Scott continued. "Downey was a lineman who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis while he was in college, and a damn good lineman. But when NFL teams saw MS, they treated him like a leper."

Yount shook his head in confusion. "There's a question coming right? For me, I mean."

"He couldn't latch on with a team because of his illness. So what I want to know is how long have you been sick, Mr. Yount?"

Yount nearly fell out of his seat with the accusation, "What are you talking about?" he asked, nervously.

"The police found the man who murdered Eliot Nash yesterday. Among his things was a slip of paper from Sharpstown Medical Clinic with a list of prescriptions on it with your name listed under 'Patient.' The prescriptions are all used to treat Multiple Sclerosis. Now why would he have your medical notes hidden in his closet?"

Yount couldn't speak, he had a far-off look in his eyes like he could see his world swirling down the drain.

"I'll tell you why: Because he was hired to kill Eliot Nash to keep him quiet."

"I-I--"

"You saw Nash taking money from Carlos Guerrero and Nash saw you run away. Nash somehow gets a hold of your medical file, finds this out and threatens to ruin your career if you don't keep quiet. You can't go to another team, they'd find out about your MS. You were stuck. And the only way you could get unstuck was to get out from under Nash's thumb. So you hired a hitman to kill Nash, place some heroin on the nightstand, steal the note and nobody would be any the wiser. Your secret would be safe."

The reporters were silent, some because they were so enraptured by Scott's accusation and others because they were furiously trying to copy it all down for their papers and TV shows.

"That's ridiculous!"

"Is it? You knew about the heroin in Sheridan's locker at the gym. It wouldn't have taken much to implicate him for the murder, especially considering the bad blood between him and Nash. That was a nice bit of subterfuge, I will admit. Only problem is that while it pointed in his direction, it also served as his alibi."

Carlyle had subtly worked his way close to the podium, holding open cuffs in his hand.

"Ashton Yount, you are under arrest for the murder of Eliot Nash. You have the right to remain silent anything you say can..."

Scott watched with a sort of queasy fascination. Justice appeared to finally be served. Then he looked at the agent. His face was ashen, his slicked back hair looked rumpled, and sweat flooded down his forehead.

"Stop!"

Scott and the other reporters turned to Yount's agent.

"Let him go, Ash had nothing to do with this."

Carlyle said, "How do you know?"

"Because...I did it. I hired that hitman to kill Eliot Nash."

Yount turned and jerked his body away toward his agent. "Uncle Hank! You didn't!"

Glaston nodded his head weakly. Nobody dared speak.

"I've been paying doctors to 'miss' his MS for two years now. I thought I'd gotten them all taken care of except goddamn Sharpstown. When Ash told me Eliot knew about it, I panicked. I ordered the hit, told him to make it look like it was that defensive end's doing, and how to do it. I...I just wanted him to have the life he deserved. It just got...got..." Glaston sighed, "out of control." He turned toward his still stunned nephew. "I'm so sorry, Ash."

"How'd you know about the heroin?" Carlyle asked.

"Ash tells me everything that happens in the locker room. When he saw the drugs in that locker, he told me about it straight away."

Scott's face dropped. He couldn't believe what had just happened. If a bear riding a unicycle while playing the piano were to suddenly ride around the stadium, he would have scarcely noticed it.

Carlyle unlocked the cuffs and let Yount go. Yount flung his arms around his uncle for what would probably be the last time.

"I'm sorry, Ash. It shouldn't have been this way."

Carlyle came over to the agent, still holding his cuffs.

"Henry Glaston, you are under arrest for the murder of Eliot Nash," said Carlyle, who sounded like he was getting tired of repeating that.

The Texans had come out of their locker room to see the commotion going on outside.

For himself, Scott didn't know what to think. The sob story Glaston told to the national media almost made him sorry he solved the murder, Yount might not have a career after all this, but without him, the Texans were out of viable quarterbacks. Despite all that, and the almost certain shitstorm he would probably face, there was still a part of him that was glad he could finally put Nash's murder to rest.

Carlyle escorted Glaston off the field and out of view. Yount followed after them so he could talk to his uncle for one last time before they tossed him into an orange jumpsuit and spirited him away to prison.

With Yount gone, all eyes were now squarely on Scott. Immediately he felt self-conscious with all those people staring at him. The reporters all had their notepads and voice recorders ready and waiting for the frenzy to begin. The fans needed only pitchforks and torches to complete their "angry mob storming the castle" motif.

Scott's eyes darted to the vomitorium, the exit, and probably safety. A single movement, even a syllable would be enough to start the frenzy. He thought about running like hell, but being in the middle of the pack made that impossible.

Maybe if I stay perfectly still, they'll never notice me, he thought, but knew that wasn't the case.

He moved his left leg and the world around him erupted in a cacophony of shouts and yowls for Scott's attention. Even Flapjacks tried to swim through the rushing current of reporters trying to get to Scott. The stands exploded in outrage. Boos and savage expletives rained down on Scott, not because he brought down Glaston, but because he had put the Texans' chances of winning their first Super Bowl in serious danger.

Dear God, what have I done, he thought.

In that moment, trying to escape the madness Reliant Stadium had become, he finally understood how Glover Quin must have felt in 2010. He just wanted to get away.

TO BE CONCLUDED...

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